Photo: The Southside High girls bowling team gathers for a photo after winning the Class 1A/5A state championship at the AHSAA state tournament on Feb. 2 in Mobile. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Bella Perkins, Cora Clontz, Keilsy Hull, Calee Morgan, Brayleigh Peppers. Standing, from left: head coach Zack Blume, Keira Phillips, Katelynn Phillips, Elizabeth Stephens, assistant coach Ashlee Hull, assistant coach David Clontz. (David Holtzford/AHSAA)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
“If we play the way we’re capable of, we’re the best team in the state.”
– Zack Blume, Jan. 26, 2024
The members of the 2023-24 Southside High girls bowling team backed up their head coach’s belief on Feb. 2 in Mobile.
The Lady Panthers won their first state title since 2020 with a 4-1 win over Scottsboro in the Class 1A/5A championship match at the AHSAA state bowling tournament at the Bowlero Bowling Center.
It was the school’s fifth state championship overall – more than any other girls’ team in the AHSAA’s nine-year bowling history – and first in the Class 1A/5A division. The first four game in consecutive years from 2017-2020 when bowling was still just one division overall.
Competing in the best-of-7 Baker format, Southside (27-4) led 2-0 in the finals against Scottsboro before dropping the third game 146-106. The Lady Panthers shook off that setback with a 181-165 win in game four and cliched the title with a 176-133 victory in game five.
“I knew we had it when me and a couple of girls said this [match] isn’t going to a seventh game,” said Blume. “Scottsboro beat us in the regionals, and we felt like we owed them one. I also think [Scottsboro] was kind of spent after a really close match in the semifinals. I’m just so proud of these girls; they were so consistent the whole tournament.
Southside rolled to a 4-0 first-round win over Springville and a 4-2 victory over Marbury in the semifinals. The Lady Panthers dropped the first game to Marbury, 159-107, before averaging 166.2 pins the rest of the match.
“It was good playing Springville first, because they’re in our region and our girls knew them pretty well. It helped get the jitters out of the way. Against Marbury in Game 1, it’s like we forgot how to bowl,” said Blume. “I called the girls together and asked them if it was out of their system. In the past, this group has let adversity get to them at times, but this time they shook off a bad game and focused in. They just were on a mission and were not going to be denied.”
Both Marbury and Scottsboro may have had better numbers than we did sometimes, but they both were very feast or famine while we remained steady. I think that was the key. Plus, we were vocal and we were loud, and the other teams just didn’t know how to handle us when we were at our best.”
Blume pointed to a standout performance by sophomore Cora Clontz as a key factor.
“She was just incredible. I knew since she was little and watching her sisters bowl that this kid was going to be something special, and she definitely came into her own as a superstar this year. She went and said, “I got this,’ and everyone came along.”
Brayleigh Peppers, Keilsey Hull and Callee Morgan also had significant roles in the wins, according to Blume.
“We had a couple of spots in the regionals that no one wanted to take, but we had people step up this week,” he said. “Brayleigh struggled at regionals, had an awesome [state] tournament. She took that No. 1 sport and ran with it and finished 10th in the state. Kelsey had a really rough Thursday but was awesome on Friday. Morgan was so huge for us in that 2 sport. She had 30 frames and 10 strikes, which is incredible., because she’s only been bowling for the last two years.”
Sparked by a first-place individual effort by Clontz, Southside claimed the top spot in the traditional seeding round on Feb. 1 with a 2,408 total. Clontz bowled a 179-207-203 to finish with a 589 series to earn medalist honors. Peppers finished 10th in the individual scoring with a 489 series, followed by Keilsey Hull at 437, Kiera Phillips at 289 and Bella Perkins at 189.
Ashley Hull, who was a member of the previous two state championship teams, served as assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach this season.
“Ashley was a part of those dynasty teams, so she knows what it takes to win a state championship,” said Blume. “She’s done an outstanding job this year, and I’m extremely proud of the steps she made as a coach.”
Blume sees little similarities between this year’s team and the 2016-20 dynasty squads.
“It’s a different format today, and the competition across the state is different. That group would have dominated in any era just because so many of those girls started bowling when they very
young. Out of our eight girls this year, only Keilsey and Cora bowled before the eighth grade.
People see how talented this group is and sometimes forget that a lot of them haven’t been competing in the sport for that long.”
Blume expressed thanks to the program’s support system.
“We have an awesome group of parents; they’ve brought in and know what it takes to win a state title. They’ve coordinated rides to and from practices and matches, put together hospitality rooms and went out and got 48 sponsors for this season, which paid for us to do what we needed to do to win state. The cities of Rainbow City and Southside were such a big help, as was all of Southside High School. We definitely felt the love.”
In other local state action, Etowah (11-2) opened championship play with a 1,163 – 1,156 victory over Holt before falling to East Limestone, 982 to 857, in the semifinals. The Blue Devils Etowah finished runner-up to Scottsboro in the Class 1A/5A traditional round on Feb. 1. Etowah, which finished with a total score of 876-875-824-2,575, got a strong effort from junior E.J. Teal, who rolled the top single game of the day in his division with a 254 in round one. He finished third overall with a 593 series. Teammate Kaed Bradley was eighth overall with a 538 series. Jaxon Bush placed 12th with a 512 score, followed by Baylee Wilder at 492 and Rylan Humphreys at 392.
In the Class 6A/7A boys championship round, Gadsden City fell to Sparkman, 765-692. The Titans placed sixth in traditional round scoring with a 2,47 total. Derik Henson bowled a fourth-place score of 590, while Max Howard came in eighth at 583. Gabriel Brito bowled a 482.
This article was supplemented by ahsaa.com